“I don’t know what I think until I write about it”, said Joan Didion, and I couldn’t agree more. But I wasn’t always like this.
I moved to Nepal in January 2016 with the following plan: A) find a job, B) get a work visa, C) live here for a few years with my partner while accumulating work experience and saving money.
It’s been almost 5 months and I have A) two jobs; B) no work visa; and C) am about to move abroad with no plan (again). But, to be fair, I will leave with MANY lessons learned. The most important (shockingly, at least to me) being: I have recently discovered that I want to write and dedicate myself to creative living.
The path towards this discovery started months ago, soon after I arrived in Nepal.
I heard about a job (which I will call ‘job-X’) that seemed to be perfect for me: It would allow me to work with themes directly related to what I had studied; it would make my CV look prettier, it might give me a work visa and, worst case scenario, it would render a nice reference letter at the end, so that I could move to another job-X office somewhere else in the world. Perfect. I thought this was the way to go and I thought I would love it. So, I applied.
Weeks went by, and I asked for cosmic help, crossed my fingers tightly for good luck, wishing with all my heart that job-X would call me. I left my phone always on loud and checked my email constantly. This went on for 3 months.
One day, somewhere in the middle of those 3 months, I grew restless.
Starting to understand that my time in Nepal was limited to my 5 months tourist visa, I decided to forget about job-X for the time being and make the most out of my Nepal experience. So, I finally set off to look for another activity where to invest my energy.
It was in the search for this ‘other activity’ that I had an important realisation.
Trying to figure out what kind of job I could do (considering my tourist visa), and what kind of job I actually wanted to try (considering this was the beginning of my very young career path), became a difficult and anxious process. Suddenly, I had a lot in my mind that I needed to express… And I discovered that I felt most comfortable doing it in the form of writing. More than comfortable, actually, writing felt comforting.
So, I wrote.
… … …
Being a journalist you might think that I had considered writing as a viable career option before. But I hadn’t. Ever. I really had never considered myself a journalist or a writer until one day, within those three months of finger crossing and email checking while hoping to hear from job-X, I published a story in an international magazine based in Nepal. I discovered, on that occasion, that maybe some people (other than my parents) could be interested in my stories and how I write them.
This is how it happened: One day, Michele bought a magazine because it had a picture of a Sadhu (our momentary anthropological obsession) on the cover. As I began to read that magazine, I noticed the articles were filled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Nonchalantly, I thought out loud that “maybe I could help them out… Hey, maybe I could even write for them…” Next thing I know, Michele called the editor, we had a meeting the following week and, within 10 days from buying that magazine, we were working as writers and copy-editors in their office in Kathmandu. Little did I know, at the time, that this episode had been the decisive step into the world of writing and magazine publishing that made me gather the courage to think that not only I can write like other people who were getting published, but also that I actually want to!
… … …
Finally embracing the realisation that I wanted to write and share my stories was a relief.
I had completely forgotten, throughout the University years and looking-for-jobs phases, that I had contemplated being a writer when I was much younger. Why had I never taken that seriously? When had I dismissed the idea of writing for a living? Had I always assumed it was a hobby and detached it from other aspects of life?
Suddenly, here I was, being introduced to people as a writer. The universe threw this childhood dream into my current confusing adult phase in the most unexpected way possible.
Within those first 3 months, I had published articles in 5 different magazines and contemplated freelance writing full-time. Being a writer for magazines in Nepal allowed me to expand my expectations about my lifestyle options. It created opportunities that forced me to live in Kathmandu differently. It took me to places I wouldn’t otherwise visit. It allowed me to understand this overwhelming city through different people’s perspectives.
I was interviewing completely different kinds of people, from a young Miss Nepal to an experienced architect trying to build earthquake-proof houses. I was meeting several different kinds of Nepalese people, which for me, as an anthropologist, was fascinating. I was exploring the city in the search for interviews, good stories and photos, but I was also balancing those intense explorations with moments of peace, where I could work from the comfort of home -which I absolutely treasure. I was discovering my personal productive routine, enjoying the excitement of an unpredictable schedule, learning to identify my sources of inspiration and getting comfortable with my writing rhythm. Not to mention that the editors I was working with were some of the most welcoming, kind and cheerful people I had met in Nepal so far.
Basically, I was having a blast while at the same time feeling productive.
I was not only allowed but also encouraged to voice my own opinions. I was exploring and expanding my flowing rivers of creativity. Freedom in writing was a mind-blowing discovery after years of being told to conform to the squared norms of academia in order to be accepted by professors and colleagues. I was finally the one to have a say about my own writing. If the editors didn’t like my work (which hasn’t happened yet!), it simply wouldn’t get published -but I still would have had so much fun writing it. It seemed that I had nothing to loose. I was taking full advantage of my newly discovered writing freedom: experimenting with whatever style best suited my mood and inspiration each day. I was falling in love with finding my own voices and story-telling styles.
Then, one day, three months in Nepal had passed and I got a call from job-X: They welcomed me to work with them.
My first reaction was “HURRAY!’ This is all I had hoped for, just a few months back. But, within minutes, there was a second reaction as I glanced at my messy and colourful working table filled with magazine copies: “But what about writing?”
Suddenly I felt painfully divided. Something did not feel right, or at least not straightforward, about taking job-X. What had happened?
After pondering what to do for a few days, I gave job-X my response: yes. But, still not ready to stop writing altogether, I decided that I would try to combine both jobs.
It seemed doable: I would have two part-time jobs. I would go to job-X 3 days a week, and write for magazines on other 3 days a week, having one day to rest.
One month into that plan and the routine’s demands had started draining my creativity rivers and sucking my positive energy, leaving none left for myself. Soon, I had stopped writing for pleasure.
I was trying to be fully present and available for both jobs, trying to make all my colleagues, bosses and editors happy, which was impossible and exhausting. I always arrived home overwhelmed from the insanely noisy and polluted traffic that was a big part of my new routine. It was officially a physical and emotional struggle. Ultimately, I was getting upset at myself for trying to make it work, because it now meant pushing my own well being to the side. I was frustrated because I was doing neither job as well as I had hoped, and I wasn’t happy.
Clearly, combining both part-time jobs turned out not as easy as I had thought it would be. Job-X is a 9-to-5-office-job that requires a stable routine. The magazine feature writer job, instead, is practically a never-ending commitment that requires extreme flexibility. For example, to be available to go to interviews within a one-hour notice (or less!), travel on random weekdays, not to mention being able to write every time I have a spark of inspiration. It was exhausting trying to balance out the two.
Job-X and writing started competing more harshly for my time. Because I had a set schedule at job-X’s office, I started having to say ‘no’ to the editors every time they offered me an exciting story that coincided with the office times (which was almost always).
I ended up giving job-X my time, priority and attention, my energy and consideration, while repeatedly saying ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘sorry, not available’, to the magazine editors. Until, one day, the editors stopped calling me (who could blame them?). Soon enough, I was not writing anymore; Neither for pleasure, nor for work. And that broke my heart.
… … …
I should have read the cosmic sign on the first day I walked into job-X’s office:
An editor had offered me a trip. I had never been to that part of Nepal and was dying to go. The deal was: I would stay there for two days and one all-inclusive night at a newly inaugurated 7-Stars Resort, and write about it in return. It sounded incredible.
The trip was booked for the same day that job-X had scheduled our first-ever meeting, and no one was willing to postpone. I had to choose. And that is how I said ‘no’ to my first opportunity to travel (to an awesome place!) as a writer.
The meeting I chose over the trip lasted just a few minutes, during which Job-X invited me to work for them strictly as a volunteer, with absolutely no hope for an official contract, let alone a work visa. I still said yes, for the sake of opportunity and for my CV.
From that day on, I have made many wrong decisions. They all led me to conclude, simply put, that letting go of writing did not feel good. It felt like I was letting go of creative living the way that Elizabeth Gilbert describes it, as “a life that is driven more by curiosity than by fear”. My fear, which led me to prioritize job-X, was the fear of missing out on a chance to write something big on my CV that others would approve of, over doing something that felt much more important in my heart. Or perhaps it was the fear of where writing would take me and having to share my stories, open up to the world. Perhaps it was the fear of not receiving the acceptance I hoped for if I dared to share my dreams. Or the fear of not ‘making it’, dedicating myself to an activity that would not be seen as ‘productive’ by society because it did not move the economy instantaneously. Or maybe the biggest fear was just plain insecurity, ‘what if others think I am not a good writer?’
Then, I again recalled Gilbert’s encouragement: “the universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”. I hope so. Now, I do. I think.
… … …
In a future life, once I understand more about what happened to me in Nepal, I might be able to say that some of the greatest gifts Nepal has had to offer me were: (1) teaching me to embrace the emotional process of self-discovery (searching for my “hidden jewels”), a bumpy ride intensified by Kathmandu’s capacity to overwhelm the senses; (2) forcing me to accept that I love writing for comfort and that (3) this is not mutually exclusive to making a living out of it, if I only I open up to sharing my stories. And finally (4) discovering that sharing my stories is not that scary after all. It can actually be very exciting and liberating. Ultimately, re-discovering my childhood dream of writing while living in Nepal has made me understand (and I mean truly feel) what entails living a life that is more fulfilling and truthful to me. It is strangely difficult to give myself permission to live by passion, but “creative living is a path for the brave”, said Gilbert.
Being at the birth land of Lord Buddha makes me think about one of his sayings, which goes something like “your work is to discover your work, and then give yourself to it with all your heart”. Without this rather stressful period, perhaps I wouldn’t have learned to identify how it feels to perform a job that doesn’t spark my soul. Perhaps I wouldn’t have understood what writing means to me, and what it feels to have my soul sparked at all. I had to earn the legitimacy to write when it was seen as a ‘productive activity’ in order to give myself permission to fully dedicate myself to it, to feel it, to embrace it and discover that yes, this is something I love. And then, I had to let go of writing in order to understand what I was missing out. Could it be that I have found what Buddha called “my work”? I don’t know yet. But given that I want to give myself to creative living with all my heart, I might have found what Gilbert called my “buried jewel”.